Sous Vide Cooking Without a Machine

Sous vide cooking requires a water bath which is held at a steady temperature for a certain amount of time (in order to ensure food is cooked). To recreate this at home, one article states that all you need is a thermometer, a pot of water, and a stove with gentle heat. It is also possible to recreate a sous vide meal with a multi-purpose cooker.

Sous Vide Cooking Without A Machine

Sous Vide Cooking on the Stove Top

One thing to understand is that using a direct heat source is different than using an immersion circulator; the circulator intakes water, heats it, and releases it back, to slowly bring all of the water up to temperature. Using a direct heat source from the bottom (like on a stove top) can results in water that is not closely regulated and varies in temperature. Here are a few tips for sous vide stove top cooking;

  1. Position the pot on the stove so that it is only partly on the burner. This will help to reduce the amount of the pot’s surface area that is being directly heated, which can control the temperature more carefully.
  2. Attaching a thermometer to the side of the pot will help to monitor the temperature; it will also ensure that the temperature is being held correctly while food is cooking; know that the temperature will drop when food in place in the pot, and will have to be watched carefully.
  3. Heating water very slowly, over low heat, is another way to help to control the temperature and risk overheating and ruining the food.

Cooking Sous vide Using an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot has become a common household item, and if you were lucky enough to get one for Christmas, you might have gotten one that is able to recreate sous vide recipes! There are several different models with the sous vide function, which would heat the water bath gently and slowly, and hold it at the required temperature for the appropriate time.

If you have a traditional Instant Pot (or similar multi-cooker machine), recreating sous vide recipes is possible, but might be a little more difficult. Here are some helpful tips;

  1. Use the warm setting on the cooker, and attach a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the water bath.
  2. If the water begins to creep up above the appropriate temperature, add some ice cubes to bring the temperature back to the appropriate range.
  3. Make a shelf at the bottom of the cooker to make sure that the bag does not come in to direct contact with the cooker; the temperature may cause the bag to melt, which would ruin the food you’re trying to cook.

Many Instant Pot Machines actually have a Sous Vide function – check out our favorites here!

Is it Possible to Sous Vide in the Oven?

This is not my favorite method, since most ovens are not precise enough to keep the temperature exactly where we need it.

If you do decide to try the oven for a Sous Vide recipe, make sure you use a thermometer and keep a close eye on the temperature.

Is Cooking Sous Vide Without A Machine Safe?

Sous vide food bags are usually made of safe plastic or silicone. In a normal sous vide machine, there is no direct heating element that the bags could come in to contact with; however, if the bags are going to be used over direct heat, it is a good idea to place something on the bottom of the pot; a strainer basket or even some metal can rings placed at the bottom can help to make a “shelf” for the food.

Food borne illness is usually not a concern with traditional sous vide cooking, as the time and temperature of cooking kills harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Sous vide machines are designed to hold water at a specific temperature, and have less than one-degree variation. That being said, cooking without a sous vide machine makes it more difficult to control water temperature. If the water is not being held at the appropriate temp, it might invite the risk for harmful bacteria to grow and multiple. Check out our article about sous vide time and temperature to learn more. Here are some tips for pseudo-sous vide food safety;

  1. Sear meat or protein first, to help kill any potentially harmful bacteria on the outside of the food.
  2. Do not start cooking until the water bath has reached the appropriate temperature.
  3. Keep a very close eye on the temperature of the water while the food is cooking, and adjust as needed.
  4. Cook food for no less than the recommended time, to ensure that it has reached temperature.

Cooking sous vide without a machine might take a little bit more preparation, but it is possible. Have you tried to cook sous vide without a machine? Comment below.


This article was written by Stephanie Searor, MS RD LDN

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